“This is Our War Too”

In an Op-Ed for spiegel.de, Ralf Fücks and Marieluise Beck present 10 propo­si­tions about what is at stake in Russia’s war against Ukraine and what needs to be done.

We just returned from our third trip to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began. We held political talks and met old friends in Kyiv and visited Kharkiv, where people demon­strated remark­able resilience. Just like in many other of the country’s regions. During our last visit in June 2022, the atmos­phere was oppres­sive; the city was half empty, the military situation uncertain. Now it is full of life again, even though nothing is normal — Russian missiles can fly in just 40 seconds from across the border. In the town of Izyum we learnt what Russian occu­pa­tion means: arbitrary rule, mass graves, torture and sexu­alised violence. The many impres­sions made it clear to us what is at stake – not only for Ukraine, but for the future of Europe.

  1. Let’s not mince words: German politics are partly respon­sible for this European cata­strophe. From the chum­mi­ness between Chan­cellor Gerhard Schröder and Vladimir Putin through Angela Merkel’s years to February 2022, Berlin down­played signs of danger and sent the wrong signals towards Moscow. The list of mistakes is long: The caution after the Russian invasion of Georgia, the embar­rassed silence after the large-scale hacker attack on the Bundestag, the stubborn illusions about a “diplo­matic solution” after the annex­a­tion of Crimea and the occu­pa­tion of swaths of east Ukrainian territory in 2014, the ignorance of Putin’s histor­ical revi­sionist pamphlets, the stubborn adherence to the “energy part­ner­ship with Russia”, the shrugging accep­tance of Russian war crimes in Syria — all this reassured Putin and his entourage that no serious resis­tance could be expected from Germany. With oil and gas imports from Russia, we financed the regime’s arms build-up while weapons for Ukraine were declared a taboo in order “not to provoke Russia”. In effect, we lowered the threshold for Russian aggression.
  2. That is the prequel. But the outcome of this war also affects us directly. Putin is not only attacking Ukraine, but the transat­lantic alliance and the European order. All we have to do is finally take seriously what the Russian lead­er­ship demanded on the eve of the attack: a revision of NATO’s eastward enlarge­ment and a return to Yalta, the confer­ence at the end of World War II that assigned eastern Europe to the Soviet sphere of influence. If the West now presents itself as weak, what will prevent Putin from testing NATO in the Baltics once Russia feels mili­tarily strong again? Either Russian neo-impe­ri­alism is stopped in Ukraine – or the next war will take place on NATO territory. Poland and the Baltic countries know this.
  3. Full support for Ukraine is not just about soli­darity. This war affects our very own interests: Inter­na­tional law must not be replaced by the law of the jungle; wars of aggres­sion must be outlawed and the equal sover­eignty of all states respected; collec­tive security can only exist with the renun­ci­a­tion of violence. If we prove incapable of defending these prin­ci­ples, it will encourage author­i­tarian regimes worldwide to use violence as a means of politics. At the same time, any success by Putin in Ukraine, however small, will deepen the rifts in the transat­lantic alliance and within the EU. Regimes ready for war despise those showing aversion to conflict as weak. Peace and security must be defended against them with a policy of strength.
  4. Conse­quently: This is our war too. This does not mean that we should send the Bundeswehr to Ukraine and risk a big Russia-NATO showdown. The Ukrainians are ready to fight for us, too. It is in our very own interest that they win. Winning the war means defending Ukraine’s full terri­to­rial integrity and political sover­eignty. The vast majority of Ukrainians are deter­mined to do so, despite all the sacri­fices the war demands. They know what it means to live under Russian occu­pa­tion: Tyranny, mass graves, torture, arbitrary arrests, depor­ta­tions, erad­i­ca­tion of the Ukrainian language and culture. No one must force Ukraine to surrender millions of people. And no one must pressure Ukraine into “terri­to­rial conces­sions” that perma­nently undermine its security and economic viability.
  5. Whether Ukraine can win the war crucially depends on us. The West has by far the greater economic, technical and military potential vis-à-vis Russia. What is lacking is the political will to help Ukraine win. With all due recog­ni­tion for the support provided so far, it was aimed at ensuring that Ukraine can hold its ground at great cost, but not at it gaining the upper hand.
  6. The political goal deter­mines the military means. If the end of this war is to be the liber­a­tion of the occupied terri­to­ries and the unre­stricted sover­eignty of Ukraine, the West must provide all the weapons needed for a successful counter-offensive as quickly as possible. As long as Putin can hope that the West grows tired and forces Ukraine into a “compro­mise” with Russia, there is no chance for a peace worth the name. The much repeated formula that Ukraine must decide for itself what conces­sions it is willing to make will remain a hollow phrase if we restrict military aid so much that Kyiv is can choose only between a war of attrition with heavy losses and a ceasefire that cements a division of the country. That would be a tragedy for Ukraine and a devas­tating signal far beyond Europe.
  7. German policy has come a long way since the start of Russia’s all-out war. We are now Ukraine’s second most important arms supplier – albeit far behind the U.S. Never­the­less, our support to date follows the pattern of “too little, too late”. Chan­cellor Olaf Scholz calls this prudence. In fact, our hesi­ta­tion is driving up Ukrainian losses. It contributed to Kyiv’s failure to use the momentum of the successful counter-offensive in autumn 2022 to liberate much of its territory. It gave Russia time to boost its arms produc­tion, fortify its front lines and entrench itself behind mine­fields. The renewed seesaw over the delivery of Taurus guided missiles limits Ukraine’s ability to attack Russian bases, depots and supply routes deep in enemy territory.
  8. Our fear of a further esca­la­tion of the war keeps Ukraine locked in asym­metric warfare. It is attacked from Russia but is supposed to be able to defend itself only on its own territory. However, the right to self-defence, guar­an­teed under inter­na­tional law, does not stop at the country’s own borders. While Russia uses the entire conven­tional arsenal of a great power, we hesitate at any new weapons system that would put Ukraine in a stronger position. Instead of worrying about Putin’s “red lines”, we should set clear limits. The Kremlin must know that every new missile attack, every attack on Ukrainian grain exports, every attack on energy supplies will be met with increased support for Ukraine. This also includes the message: keep your hands off weapons of mass destruc­tion. Their use would have devas­tating conse­quences for Russia. This is called deter­rence. After all the futile nego­ti­a­tions, it is the only language Putin understands.
  9. Nego­ti­a­tions can only take place when Moscow is ready to respect Ukraine’s full political sover­eignty and withdraw its troops from the occupied terri­to­ries. Mind you, these are not maximum demands, but the minimum required by inter­na­tional law and the European order. Any sustain­able peace also requires that those respon­sible for Russian war crimes be held account­able. Those who unleash a war of aggres­sion against a peaceful neighbour must not be allowed to walk free. A third element of any nego­ti­ated settle­ment must be compen­sa­tion for the destruc­tion Russia has caused in Ukraine. With the Russian Central Bank’s frozen assets, there is a bargaining chip for this. It must also be clear that neither Ukraine’s accession to the EU nor its NATO member­ship are nego­tiable. Russia has no right to determine the future of its neighbours.
  10. Russia’s war against Ukraine is also a test of the strength of Western democ­ra­cies. Future histo­rians will see it as a key moment for the future of Europe and the inter­na­tional order. If we fail this test, we fail not only vis-à-vis Ukraine. The balance of power will then shift further in favour of author­i­tarian powers that see the “decadent West” in decline. We should not do them this favour. Conversely, an inde­pen­dent, free Ukraine can become an anchor point for a demo­c­ratic trans­for­ma­tion in the entire region. This also applies to Russia. Those who do not want to write off this country perma­nently should do every­thing to ensure that Russian neo-impe­ri­alism fails in Ukraine. That is a prereq­ui­site for any change for the better.

This article first appeared at Spiegel.de


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